The Exquisite Corpus of Dutch Football

Hua's note: And so it ended in a draw. Which was probably the best possible outcome over here. Unassimilable, temporary-feeling, a reminder that these matches are the raw materials toward a broader narrative and rarely stories in themselves. As well, the draw stemmed the pre-match hype that had begun to grow fatiguing. It was probably the best possible outcome for England, as well. Why suffer from fantasy longer than is necessary? 1966 will remain 1966.

Makeshift RSS feed: last week, Anmol Chaddha wrote about rooting for South Africa, something R. Kelly is apparently doing. Pete L'Official considered the global dimensions of Louis Vuitton's World Cup trophy case. I wrote about TV commercials and vuvuzelas. Some entertaining posts and promising matches this week, with favorites Brazil, Spain, and the Netherlands finally taking the pitch. Today, Piotr Orlov meditates on the Oranje and the beautiful game's need for beautiful casualties.

"(I Am!) Kurious Oranje" b/w "There's Only One Dennis Bergkamp (Dub)"
by Piotr Orlov

It should make all the sense in the world that the myth of the beautiful loser is inexorably tied to the fact of the beautiful game. You desperately need the former to make a meaningful equation of the latter. Yet, Brazil and Barcelona aside, attractiveness is a rare drop in victory's potion, which is why neutrals and bandwagon-jumping newcomers buzz over Joga Bonito and el sistema like puberty-grappling lads watching girls developing ahead schedule, asking "how do they do that?" and "can I get one?" The footballistic answers to these questions are often tied to selling your soul to beauty's dark side, which hides its poisoned acts from its celebration parades. (Though make no doubt: they're still there.)

Of course, seasoned veterans know footballistic beauty has another way, Total Football, but that its aesthetic grace rarely bears the gift of triumph. And being that beautiful losers are less headliners than curios, they rank far behind the stories of favorites, cheap socio-political human interests, and jingoistic one-upmanship that sports insta-pundits peddle during this quadrennial festival. Regardless of the deep vein of meaning such tales may carry.

Total Football is the now-natural style of the Oranje, as the national team of the Netherlands is called, and it was they--the (endlessly dubbed) "finest footballing nation to never win a World Cup"--who developed it in the 1970s. Yet, while it's been passed on from generation to generation (Cruyff and Neeskins to Van Basten and Gullit to Bergkamp and Kluivert to Van Persie and Sneider), Total Football's pure manifestation of technically outrageous, naturally executed and stylistically savvy moving parts, has been inextricably married to cases of psychological anguish that grips all of its most talented creators. The skilled feet they are taught to play with, connected to the egos and emotions that destroy them. It's so dastardly, you'd think Hans Christian Andersen, master allegorist of surviving and embracing feeling, was Dutch; alas, he wasn't, and it is his Danish countrymen against whom the next chapter of the tale "Kurious Kase of Oranje" will begin to be written, in Johannesburg on Monday.

One wonders if the beautiful minds from which the Total Football sprung ­ playmaker Johan Cruyff, who brought its gene to Barcelona as a player in the mid-70s and as coach in the early-90s, and coach Rinus Michaels ­could have imagined that its successful implementation would be plagued by political infighting, cultural clashes, personal phobias, and injuries at every major tournament. The genius philosophy that preaches on-pitch democracy and collective individuality as man's highest systemic achievement gets undermined (mostly) by man's nature, beauty cut down by the inner beast.

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Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. More

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Bookforum, Slate, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe Ideas section and The Wire (for whom he writes a bi-monthly column). He is on the editorial board for the New Literary History of America.

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